Action plan gives employers opportunity to direct the future of IT training in the UK

UK draws up proposals to transform UK IT training and education

UK draws up proposals to transform UK IT training and education

Employers are being offered the opportunity to drive an action plan designed to ensure that businesses will be able to recruit IT professionals with the skills they need over the next 10 years.

The plan, published last week by the public/private sector training partnership E-skills UK, sets out to transform IT training and education in the UK, by emphasising business and project management skills.

It offers employers an opportunity to address the underlying weaknesses that have dogged the IT profession in the UK.

"There is a need for a real change in the way we run and manage IT. We need people with skills that run across business and technology" said Colin Thompson, deputy chief executive of the British Computer Society.

"The idea of an IT director and a business director having separate responsibilities is old-think," he said.

The action plan, called the Sector Skills Agreement for IT, is the first serious attempt to meet this challenge. It aims to match the training offered by universities, colleges and training companies much more closely to the future needs of businesses.

The plan, currently in draft form, has been put together by leading user organisations including Ford, British Airways, Vodafone and John Lewis; suppliers such as EDS and IBM; universities and IT training specialists.

It proposes 12 major initiatives. They include the creation of new IT degrees, to be rolled out within three years that will place as much emphasis on business, management and communication skills as on technology.

A network of new IT academies will offer IT professionals accelerated learning in business and higher value technical skills, while at the same time training business managers in IT.

And employers will be offered the services of skills brokers, who will be able to audit the training needs of their staff, direct organisations to subsidised training courses, and help them to calculate the return on investment the training would generate.

"We are hoping that it will ensure the UK has the skills it needs to be competitive in the global economy. The UK is at risk if we don't take action, because other economies are definitely addressing this," said Karen Price chief executive of E-skills UK.

The plan, unlike previous attempts to address the skills crisis, will place employers firmly in the driving seat, and give them unprecedented influence over national training policies, and the development of the IT curriculum in schools and universities, E-skills claimed.

"The government has made a commitment to let employers drive the agenda in terms of skills delivery in the UK, in terms of those entering the workforce and those in the workforce," said Price.

"It will give employers the opportunity to influence the design of courses and qualifications. It will ensure that funding is directed to deliver them, and employers will be able to expect subsidy from government for their training programmes."

But there is a catch. The government will only back the plan if employers are prepared to invest their own time and energy into making it work.

The last attempt to address the underlying skills problems in IT, the Stevens report published in 1999, floundered as employers become distracted in the post millennium bug down-turn in IT spending.

"We have a small window of opportunity to create the step change we have been working towards for so long. I am convinced that the government is 100% committed to this. If we get the commitment of employers behind it we should be able to deliver the lot," Price said.

Users map out IT skills framework >>

Will the E-skills plan work for you?

You can influence the future of IT training by providing feedback on the E-skills plan. E-skills is looking for constructive criticism of its proposals and for any ideas it has missed.

Employers can also volunteer to help to implement the plan by working with universities, schools and E-skills UK.

How the E-skills plan is designed to put the business into IT training   

Employers will help universities to design business-focused IT degrees 

New business-focused IT degrees will be rolled out through universities within three years. The degree, which will be developed by employers and universities, will place equal emphasis on business skills, interpersonal skills, project work and technology.  

The course will include new technical subjects currently absent from most IT degrees such as online security and e-crime prevention. The programme has backing from large employers including Ford, IBM, Norwich Union, BT and Lehman Brothers. 

A network of IT academies will offer IT professionals accelerated training 

The growth of offshore outsourcing will mean that that many entry-level IT jobs will disappear. This will disrupt the traditional apprenticeship route for IT professionals.  

A network of regional IT academies will be created to provide accelerated teaching to IT professionals in the higher value business and technical skills that will be in demand from employers.   

The academies will also train business professionals in the skills needed to transfer to the IT department. They will be targeted at small businesses. 

Universities will teach IT skills in non-IT degrees 

Employers and universities will develop IT modules for non-IT degrees. The modules will focus on using IT to innovate in business. They will help future business leaders in every sector to make the most of technology, and could help to boost UK competitiveness. 

Electronic exchanges will match the supply of IT skills with demand from employers 

Employers and the education sector will develop an electronic skills exchange, that helps universities and training companies to match their training courses to employers' needs.  

The exchange will help employers find training for their immediate skills needs and influence the curriculum of universities and colleges by mapping out their longer term skills needs.  

Skills brokers will help businesses to train their IT workforce 

A network of skills brokers will help employers to assess the skills of their IT workforce, and direct them to the training their staff need to meet the organisation's business objectives.  

The brokers will be able to direct employers to subsidised training and help firms to demonstrate a return on investment for the training courses they invest in. 

Simple, flexible, qualifications will be introduced, geared toward the needs of employers 

E-skills plans to work with awarding bodies and employers to simplify vocational IT qualifications. It will develop bite-sized learning modules that will allow staff to learn new skills when they need them in their work. 

More girls will be encouraged into the IT profession through school computer clubs 

Nearly 4,000 schools will set up computer clubs for girls within three years. These will designed to encourage girls to learn IT skills through projects based on their own interests. 

IT training in schools to be ramped up 

A new IT diploma for schools and colleges will be rolled out within three years. Aimed at 14- to 19-year olds, the diploma will equip youngsters for careers in IT and train future managers in the skills needed to make the most of IT in business. Teachers will be given training in IT skills. Pilot schemes will start within a year.

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